[Burning Issue] Cyclones in India: From Devastation to Resilience

cyclone india destruction

Central Idea

  • India, with its extensive coastline, faces the challenge of cyclones, which can cause significant destruction.
  • The recent landfall of Cyclone Biparjoy showcases India’s appraisable preparedness and mitigation efforts.
  • This article discusses various aspects of cyclones, their types, impacts, and management measures in India.

Understanding Cyclones

cyclone india

Cyclones are large-scale air masses characterized by low atmospheric pressure at their center, creating a violent whirl in the atmosphere that moves from the ocean towards the coasts.

Types of Cyclones

  1. Tropical cyclones: These weather systems occur within the tropics, characterized by winds exceeding ‘Gale Force.’ They are powered by heat from the sea and driven by easterly trades and temperate westerlies.
  2. Extratropical cyclones: These develop in the mid and high latitudes beyond the tropics.
  3. Polar cyclones: Occurring over Polar Regions, these cyclones are particularly strong during the winter season.
  4. Meso-Cyclones: Vortices of air within convective storms, accompanied by thunderstorms.

Cyclogenesis: The Process of Cyclone Formation

Cyclogenesis refers to the development and strengthening of cyclonic circulation in the atmosphere in the tropics. Certain favourable conditions contribute to cyclogenesis:

  1. Warm sea surface temperature (above 26–27°C) and associated warming.
  2. High relative humidity in the atmosphere.
  3. Atmospheric instability promoting the formation of vertical cumulus clouds.
  4. Low vertical wind shear that prevents heat transfer from the area.
  5. Location at least 4–5 degrees latitude away from the equator in the intertropical convergence zone.

Tropical cyclones are characterized by heavy rainfall, violent winds, and storm surges that have a significant impact on human and animal life.

How are Cyclones named?

  • Naming Authorities: Cyclones are named by Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMCs) and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centers (TCWCs) located in different regions worldwide. The IMD is responsible for naming cyclones in the North Indian Ocean region, including the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
  • Collaboration among Nations: Nations in a specific region collaborate to name cyclones. In 2000, a group of nations including Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand decided to name cyclones in the North Indian Ocean region. Five more countries were added in 2018: Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen.
  • Selection of Names: The Panel on Tropical Cyclones (PTC) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) finalizes the list of names. Member countries submit suggestions, and names are chosen to reflect cultural, social, or geographical significance.
  • List of Names: The IMD released a list of 169 cyclone names in April 2020, including suggestions from member nations. These names are used sequentially as cyclones develop in the region.
  • Naming Process: When a cyclone forms and meets the naming criteria, the responsible authority assigns the next name from the list. This name is used in official communications and advisories related to the cyclone, aiding in identification and tracking.
  • Importance of Naming: Naming cyclones facilitates easy reference, communication, and awareness about their development, intensity, and impacts. It ensures effective dissemination of information among meteorological agencies, media, and the general public.

Classification of Tropical Cyclones in India

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) classifies tropical cyclones as per their intensity:

  1. Depression: Winds up to 51 kmph.
  2. Deep Depression: Winds between 52 and 61 kmph.
  3. Cyclonic Storm: Winds between 62 and 88 kmph.
  4. Severe Cyclonic Storm: Winds between 89 and 117 kmph.
  5. Very Severe Cyclonic Storm: Winds between 118 and 166 kmph.
  6. Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm: Winds between 167 and 221 kmph.
  7. Super Cyclonic Storm: Winds exceeding 221 kmph.

Most Vulnerable Area: Bay of Bengal Region

Cyclones originating in the Bay of Bengal are typically more intense than those in the Arabian Sea due to geographical factors:

  • The Arabian Sea region experiences winds directed towards the Arabian Peninsula, leading to efficient heat dissipation and relatively cooler waters, unfavourable for cyclone formation.
  • The shape of the landmasses surrounding the Bay of Bengal slows down and weakens winds, resulting in less efficient heat dissipation and continuous warm water surfaces.
  • The presence of rivers like the Ganga and the Brahmaputra adds warm moisture to the Bay of Bengal, fueling cyclone intensification.
  • The east coast’s characteristic shape attracts cyclones, and the Coriolis effect causes their movement in a northwest and anti-clockwise direction.
  • The flat plains of the east coast offer little resistance to winds and incoming cyclones.

India and Cyclones

cyclone india
  • India’s long coastline of 7,516 km makes it exposed to approximately 7% of the world’s tropical cyclones.
  • The Bay of Bengal is the primary source of cyclones, with a ratio of 4:1 compared to the Arabian Sea.
  • The frequency of cyclones in the North Indian Ocean Basin peaks during May-June and October-November.
  • Cyclones originating in the Bay of Bengal often produce higher storm surges, impacting the east coast of India and Bangladesh.

Impacts of Cyclones

Cyclones have various detrimental effects, including:

  • Damaging structures, infrastructure, and crops due to high-velocity winds.
  • Storm surges causing loss of life, property damage, erosion, and reduced soil fertility.
  • Disruption of livelihoods, particularly for coastal communities dependent on fishing.
  • Health complications and diseases due to flooding and lack of access to essential services.
  • Psychological impacts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, among affected populations.

Devastating Cyclones in India

Several devastating cyclones have struck India since 1990, including the Odisha cyclone in 1999, cyclones Phailin in 2013, and HudHud in 2014. These cyclones caused significant loss of life and property.

Cyclone Management in India

Effective cyclone management requires a focus on preparedness, mitigation, response, and capacity development:

  1. Early Warning Systems: India utilizes various observational systems and the Indian Meteorological Department for accurate forecasts and warnings.
  2. Mitigation Measures: Structural measures include building cyclone shelters, maintaining infrastructure, and constructing embankments. Non-structural measures involve implementing coastal regulation guidelines and preserving natural bio-shields.
  3. Response Measures: These encompass relief, rescue, evacuation planning, restoring essential services, and rehabilitation efforts.
  4. Awareness Generation and Capacity Development: Promoting awareness at various levels, conducting mock drills, training response forces, and enhancing institutional capacity are essential.

Challenges in Cyclone Management in India

Despite progress, India faces several challenges in cyclone management:

  • Insufficient emphasis on prevention rather than management.
  • Vulnerability of the coastal population, particularly the poor and marginalized.
  • Lack of coordination between stakeholders and local bodies.
  • Inadequate early warning techniques and poor building practices.
  • Limited preparedness of state disaster response forces.
  • Lack of awareness among the population leading to chaotic responses.
  • Ineffective regulation of coastal zones due to population pressure and corruption.
  • Lack of coordination among local communities during search and rescue missions.

Transforming Cyclone Response: The Odisha Model

  • Odisha, a coastal state in India, has been plagued by frequent cyclones for decades.
  • However, through years of learning and strategic interventions, the state has achieved a remarkable transformation in its disaster management response.
  • At the forefront of this change is Officer Pradeep Kumar Jena (IAS), who has played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and minimizing the impact of cyclones.
cyclone ias india

This case study delves into the key aspects of Odisha’s disaster management approach and highlights the valuable lessons that other cyclone-prone states can learn from their experiences.

Key Findings:

Learning from past experiences: Every cyclone is unique, and Odisha has recognized the importance of analyzing previous disasters to improve its response mechanisms continually. After each cyclone, comprehensive evaluations are conducted to identify areas for improvement and refine disaster preparedness strategies.

Preparing for multiple challenges: In 2020, Odisha faced the dual challenges of cyclone Amphan and the COVID-19 pandemic. With no prior knowledge of managing a cyclone during a pandemic, the state had to adapt quickly. By converting school and college buildings into shelters and implementing strict guidelines, they successfully prevented the spread of the virus and managed the cyclone without any casualties.

Prioritizing vulnerable populations: Odisha’s proactive approach includes identifying and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women. During Cyclone Fani, immediate measures were taken to evacuate pregnant women to district and sub-divisional hospitals. This practice has become a standard procedure, ensuring the safety of both mothers and newborns.

Effective coordination and community involvement: A collective effort involving communities, district collectors, and the government has been instrumental in Odisha’s success. The state’s disaster management model emphasizes reaching affected areas promptly, with block headquarters reached within 24 hours, gram panchayats within 48 hours, and all villages within 72 hours. This swift response helps minimize destruction and save lives.

Recommendations for other states: To enhance disaster management and response in other cyclone-prone states, IAS officer Pradeep Kumar Jena suggests the following:

  1. Develop state-specific disaster response forces in addition to national agencies like NDRF, Army, and Navy.
  2. Empower gram panchayats to manage natural disasters effectively by granting certain powers and resources.
  3. Build a strong network of trained volunteers who can provide assistance during emergencies.
  4. Incorporate long-term planning to ensure adequate resources and infrastructure for disaster resilience.
  5. Collaborate with central and state governments to establish disaster-resilient assets that can minimize the impact of cyclones and floods.


To enhance cyclone management in India, there is a need to harmonize national and local disaster institutions, implement risk-proof measures, promote people-centric disaster management, involve the private sector, strengthen research and training, and raise awareness at all levels. Emulating successful models like Odisha’s can contribute to minimizing the impacts of future cyclones.

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